Thanks to America’s technological superiority and the ingenuity of the American farmer, early in the 1960s America’s ability to produce food exceeded her ability to consume it and even export it, which led to the classic supply-and-demand problem of over production depressing prices. As a result, many farmers actually lost money on their livestock and crops, which, quite naturally, led to complaints to Congress.  In its infinite wisdom, Congress — also quite naturally — passed laws paying farmers not to grow crops, or raise livestock, in the hopes of bringing supply and demand more into balance.  This “agricultural welfare” generated lots of criticism, which took many forms.  One of the more humorous was a letter written to Texas Congressman Ed Foreman, this week (March 20) in 1963. This comes from a wonderful collection of American correspondence titled Letters of a Nation, edited by Andrew Carroll.

Dear Sir:

My friend over in Terebone Parish received a $1,000 check from the government this year for not raising hogs.  So I am going into the not-raising-hogs business next year.   What I want to know is, in your opinion, what is the best kind of farm not to raise hogs on and the best kind of hogs not to raise?  I would prefer not to raise Razorbacks, but if that is not a good breed not to raise, I will just as gladly not raise Berkshires or Durocs.

The hardest work in this business is going to be in keeping an inventory of how many hogs I haven’t raised.

My friend is very joyful about the future of his business.  He has been raising hogs for more than 20 years and the best he ever made was $400 until this year when he got $1,000 for not raising hogs.

If I can get $1,000 for not raising 50 hogs, then will I get $2,000 for not raising 100 hogs?  I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself down to not raising 4,000 hogs, which means I will have $80,000 coming from the federal government.

Now another thing: these hogs I will not raise will not eat 100,000 bushels of corn. I understand that you also pay farmers for not raising corn.  So will you pay me anything for not raising 100,000 bushels of corn not to feed the hogs I am not raising?  I wanted to get started as soon as possible as this seems to be a good time of year for not raising hogs.

One thing more, can I raise 10 or 20 hogs on the side while I am in the not-raising-hogs business, just enough to get a few sides of bacon to eat?

Very truly yours, J.B. Lee, Jr.